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I understand that it's a music genre so somewhat by definition there's a similar sound, but I'd like to know why so much Christian music converged into this similar sounding "Christian rock". It's not like old Christian gospels always fell under "Christian rock" - in fact rock as a genre can't be anywhere near the age of Christianity.

What's the origin of Christian rock? Christianity is a set of religious beliefs, people write and sing songs about those beliefs, but somehow overtime they converged toward this similar sound - why/how?

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In the words of Hank Hill, “You’re not making Christianity better, you’re just making rock and roll worse.” :)

I found this article to have a pretty interesting background and history on the origins of Christian rock as a musical genre. Unsurprisingly, as with so much of modern Evangelical Christian subculture, Christian rock came about as an alternative to secular music trying to reach "nonbelievers" with something more enticing and familiar than gospel music.

"Many historians trace the birth of Christian rock to the release, in 1969, of 'Upon This Rock.' It was an inventive concept album, by turns fierce and sweet, that was the work of a stubborn visionary named Larry Norman—the founding father of Christian rock." The article continues to explain that Norman and other evangelicals leveraged the Hippie Movement at the time to promote the transformative power of Christianity, even so far as to describe encounters with Jesus as the "ultimate trip," fueling the Jesus Movement. Over time, this became a key strategy of Christian churches in America—to insert Jesus-loving lyrics into songs with modern sounds to attract youth.

To get into your question on the sound of it, it's helpful to understand the perspective of many of these Christian rock artists. Eddie DeGarmo of DeGarmo & Key unapologetically believed this and shared in his memoir, “Christian music is a lyric-based genre. If you’re not passionate about delivering a message, this isn’t the scene for you...We always tried hard to come up with a title and a song that could end up being the theme to a summer youth camp and plastered on t-shirts everywhere." And the success of bands like DC Talk proved this as they infused their Christian lyrics into songs made to match the sounds and phenomenon of Nirvana in the early 90s.

That brings me to possibly the most poignant quote to answer your question:

The focus on lyrics exacted a cost, because it encouraged listeners and musicians alike to view music as a meaningless delivery system for meaningful words.

And as Christian rock grew, especially with the rise of record labels like Tooth & Nail that brought this genre into the Christian mainstream and some even into the secular mainstream, the money to be made became extremely apparent. As parents and youth pastors alike searched for any opportunity to bring youth into or keep their faith, the solution was Christian rock. Its focus on message over sound meant it could follow a basic formula that made it easier to produce in large quantities over quality. And because these Christian bands had Christian record labels, more and more got through the filter instead of having to compete with the cut-throat demands of secular labels. So there was no incentive to make something 'different' but rather to make more. This quantity over quality strategy also gave rise to Christian worship which follows a similar formula that can be easily repeated over and over by even the most amateur of musicians but gives people a spiritual experience by adding some nice sounds to a religious message.

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    this idea of "message over sound meant it could follow a basic formula" is really fascinating and is an extremely compelling argument for why so much of the sound compositions are similar!
    – ccchoy
    Nov 4, 2022 at 17:18
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Yes, there is a lot of similar-sounding Christian rock music out there. Having spent some time working in the Nashville Christian music scene, here's what I found:

  1. Record labels exist to make money, and the Christian music industry is no different. That was a tough realization for naive little-ol' me to grasp, but it explained why there was so little innovation and risk taking in the genre.
  2. The Christian music industry is small. That often means the same labels, studios, producers, engineers, and musicians record much of the material. That can lead to a sameness in the sound. This was especially true of the Nashville Christian music scene in years past, and it still applies today among the popular "modern worship" labels.
  3. A few radio networks tend to dominate the Christian music airwaves (looking at you, K-LOVE), and they have a pretty set formula for what they'll play. If you want your music played there, you have to toe the line stylistically.

All that said, here are two other points to consider:

  1. You can find a tremendous amount of imitation and repetition in every genre of music, regardless of style or market size. Christian music is far from unique in this.
  2. There's likely more variety in Christian rock music than you realize. Turn off the radio and explore on Spotify or Apple Music or ???. Follow the recommendations, check the new releases, listen to user playlists. You can find creative, innovative Christian music in a large buffet of styles in the broader rock genre.
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  • I know that there's a large amount of overlapping sound in every genre of music and sure one could dig within any genre to discover innovative takes. My question is more toward "how/why is it that christian music/singer/songwriters converged toward this particular sound"
    – ccchoy
    Nov 4, 2022 at 16:57
  • tbf I do somewhat-naively think that a lot of christian rock does sound the same (maybe more than some other genres) and perhaps there's something in its roots that explains that.
    – ccchoy
    Nov 4, 2022 at 16:59
  • Hmm or maybe the answer really is more of a pattern of industry-level conformity? As your post seems to imply that first and foremost it's an industry so there's money incentive to get in on the christian rock music train. falling under a category like this makes distribution easier like your 3rd point about radio networks. Additionally because the industry remained small (your second point), sounds remained very similar.
    – ccchoy
    Nov 4, 2022 at 17:06

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